Naked (1993 film)

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Naked poster.jpg
UK poster
Directed byMike Leigh
Produced bySimon Channing Williams
Written byMike Leigh
Music byAndrew Dickson
CinematographyDick Pope
Edited byJon Gregory
Distributed byFirst Independent Films (UK)
Fine Line Features (US)
Release date
  • 5 November 1993 (1993-11-05)
Running time
131 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1.8 million (US)

Naked is a 1993 British black comedy drama film written and directed by Mike Leigh and starring David Thewlis as Johnny, a loquacious intellectual and conspiracy theorist. The film won several awards, including best director and best actor at Cannes. Naked marked a new career high for Leigh as a director and made the then-unknown Thewlis an internationally recognised star.[2]


In an alleyway of the UK city of Manchester, Johnny Fletcher has rough sex with a woman. At the end of which, she begins to resist and Johnny runs away.[3] He then steals a car and flees for Dalston, a "scrawny, unpretentious area" in the east of London. He seeks refuge at the home of his former Manchester girlfriend Louise. Louise is not happy to see her ex. She works as a file clerk and shares a rental house with two flatmates, Sophie, a young unemployed woman, and primary tenant Sandra, a nurse who's away on holiday.

Johnny immediately seduces Sophie, but soon tires of her and walks around Central London. During his walk, Johnny expounds his world-view at length to anyone who will listen, whether Archie, a young Scottish man yelling "Maggie!" at the top of his voice when he comes across her in Brewer Street, or Brian, a security guard planning for his future amidst acres of empty space, whom Johnny marks down as having, "the most tedious job in England".[4]

After pursuing and then rejecting a drunken woman as he noticed a black skull and crossbones tattoo on her shoulder, Johnny is tossed out of a sublet by a young cafe worker he's followed home. He hitches a ride with a man who's hanging posters around town. The poster man, exasperated by Johnny's non-stop haranguing, kicks him several times, driving off with Johnny's duffel bag containing his clothes and books. Johnny wanders the streets and, with no provocation, is severely beaten by thugs.

He manages to return to Louise's home, where he encounters Sophie and their psychotic landlord Jeremy (aka Sebastian). Jeremy has let himself in. Sophie is desperate to get Jeremy out of the house after having been raped by him. She and Louise try to keep Johnny quiet but Jeremy awakens to find Johnny, injured and having a fit.

Sandra returns from her trip to Zimbabwe and tends to Johnny's injuries. Louise rids the house of Jeremy. She and Johnny have a reconciliation. Feeling desolate and rejected, Sophie flees the house with her few possessions. Louise leaves for work, promising to return and go back to Manchester with Johnny. But Johnny steals cash that Sebastian had left in the house and hobbles out into the streets.



Background and development[edit]

Leigh first had the idea for the story while a student in Manchester in the early 1960s: "We had a very enlightened teacher who endlessly reminded us that the next total eclipse would be in August 1999. Later I started thinking about the millennium and the end of the world. In 1992 the millennium was impending, so I brought that idea to the film."[2]

In 1965, Leigh had teamed up with David Halliwell, hired the Unity Theatre for a fortnight, and directed the first production of Halliwell's Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs. According to theater critic Michael Coveney, "Malcolm Scrawdyke is clearly a precursor of Johnny in Naked. Scrawdyke was a loutish art student and absurd ideologue from Huddersfield who had trouble with girls and a hatred for his teachers...the play shared a deeply felt schoolboy coarseness with Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, a piece originally written as a vicious attack on a loathed mathematics master."[4]

Leigh's method, as in all his character dramas, consisted of elaborate improvisational rehearsals with the cast to develop the background stories and traits of their characters. The actors interacted with the outside world and with each other while in character until Leigh told them to come out of character and be themselves.[5] The dialogue produced from these interactions was then edited, or "distilled" to form the script, based on a minimal plot outline by Leigh. The cast was not allowed to discuss their characters with one another outside of rehearsals, as Leigh, for realism, would rather they meet and interact as they would in real life.[6] Thewlis's background reading for the part of Johnny included Voltaire's Candide, the teachings of Buddha and James Gleick's Chaos,[4] as well as the Bible and the Qur'an.[2]

Principal photography[edit]

After weeks of improvisations between Leigh and his cast, filming took place in London from 9 September to 16 December 1992. Sandra's Neo-Gothic home was an actual interior/exterior location that Leigh featured heavily, particularly in the last shot of the film, as its corner location allowed for wide street views.[6]

The scenes between Johnny and Brian the security guard came from an eight-hour improvisation. The uncut shot of Johnny and Brian in silhouette, where Johnny expounds on his convoluted apocalyptic conspiracy theory, had 26 takes, but Leigh ended up using one of the earliest takes. The film's dialogue has a loose, improvisational quality but, according to Thewlis, the only improvisation filmed on location was the scene of Johnny meeting and antagonising the poster man.[6]

The song sung by Johnny and Louise near the film's end, "Take me back to Manchester when it's raining", was one Leigh used to sing with his friends in Habonim ("the Builders"), the international socialist Jewish youth movement he joined as a schoolboy. After the film was released, Leigh heard from a retired schoolmaster at Stand Grammar in Whitefield, Greater Manchester, who had written the song for a school revue in 1950.[4]


The look of the film is dark, monochromatic and claustrophobic, with subtle visual references to film noir and Alfred Hitchcock. Many shots are located in stairwells and in borrowed flats whose tenants are hostile toward or unaware of the decor, making them seem disconnected from cultural touchstones and their place in their homes. Alienation, sexual violence and misogyny, addiction and depression are touched upon as Johnny meets various rootless individuals who work in dead-end jobs or are unemployed.[6]

Intelligent, educated and eloquent, Johnny is also deeply embittered and egotistical. He tends to dominate conversations with his aggressive intellectualism and theories about modern culture. His tactics are based on a particular form of intellectual bullying, directed at strangers and intimate partners alike, and summed up in domineering, scholastic barrages drawn from eclectic sources. His overall behaviour is reckless, self-destructive, and at times borderline sadistic, and shows a penchant for aggressive sexual domination at least twice throughout the film.

Biographer Sheridan Morley described Johnny as "Alfie in the grips of Thatcherite depression",—thus, according to critic Michael Coveney, "cross fertilising Bill Naughton's chirpy cockney Lothario, immortalised by Michael Caine, with the dark sinister disaffection of the new underclass—a neat way of indicating that the Swinging Sixties had degenerated into the nauseated Nineties." Coveney said that Leigh had captured something of the anxiety, rootless cynicism, and big-city disaffection of the time.[4]

Ben Myers, in a Guardian article calling Naked Mike Leigh's "finest work" and "the best British film in recent history", elaborated on the many theories film-goers have had on who Johnny might represent: "...a modern, albeit highly flawed, Jesus attempting to change people's lives. Or perhaps he's the devil himself. Others have suggested it is a post-AIDS morality movie, or a classic urban existentialist tale."[7]

Critics have suggested comparisons with William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning (one of Leigh's favourite films).[4] Shakespeare's hero is marked by "talking incessantly to the audience and assuming a dominance over other characters through expressions of mania, and rapid, witty speech. Thewlis, ... wrapped like Hamlet in a black and inky coat, [is similarly] socially untethered but burdened with useless knowledge and a vicious, bullying line in repartee." Of the precedent of "idiosyncratic, character-driven film-making" in Renoir's Boudu, Coveney said: "Both Naked and Boudu explore the tension between the domesticated and the anarchic (this is a central theme, probably the theme running through Leigh's work), and focus this tension in the tragicomedy of a central character."[4]


The film generated mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 88% rating based on reviews from 56 critics, with an average score of 8.19/10 and the consensus: "Naked lives up to its title with a thoroughly committed performance from David Thewlis that's backed up with some of Mike Leigh's most powerful direction."[8] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 84 (out of 100) based on 20 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "universal acclaim."[9]

Derek Malcolm of The Guardian noted that the film "is certainly Leigh's most striking piece of cinema to date" and that "it tries to articulate what is wrong with the society that Mrs Thatcher claims does not exist." On the character of Johnny, he notes: "He likes no one, least of all himself, and he dislikes women even more than men, relapsing into sexual violence as his misogyny takes hold. He is perhaps redeemable, but only just. And not by any woman in our immediate view." He praised the directing and performances, singling out David Thewlis, mentioning that he "plays [Johnny] with a baleful brilliance that is certain to make this underrated, but consistently striking, actor into a star name ... [Johnny] is, at his worst, a cold, desperate fish. His redeeming feature is that he still cares."[10]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars and analysed the message behind the title, saying it "describes characters who exist in the world without the usual layers of protection. They are clothed, but not warmly or cheerfully. But they are naked of families, relationships, homes, values and, in most cases, jobs. They exist in modern Britain with few possessions except their words." He praised the directing, noting: "[Leigh's] method has created in Naked a group of characters who could not possibly have emerged from a conventional screenplay; this is the kind of film that is beyond imagining, and only observation could have created it." He concluded: "This is a painful movie to watch. But it is also exhilarating, as all good movies are, because we are watching the director and actors venturing beyond any conventional idea of what a modern movie can be about. Here there is no plot, no characters to identify with, no hope. But there is care: The filmmakers care enough about these people to observe them very closely, to note how they look and sound and what they feel."[11]

Julie Burchill attacked the film in The Sunday Times, saying that Leigh's characters talked like lobotomised Muppets; they talked, she said, "sub-wittily, the way Diane Arbus's subjects look." And Suzanne Moore in The Guardian criticised the lethargic females whose lives Johnny routinely ruins: "What sort of realism is this? To show a misogynist and surround him with such walking doormats has the effect, intentional or not, of justifying this behaviour."[12] Lesley Sharp (Louise) responded: "There are a lot of people who don't go to art house cinemas who do have deeply troubled lives and are at risk ... We do actually live in a misogynistic, violent society and there are a lot of women in abusive relationships who find it very difficult to get out of them. And a lot of men, too." Michael Coveney, a British theatre critic, wrote in defence of the film: "Is there no room for irony, for the idea that in depicting horror in the sex war an artist is exposing them, not endorsing them? And who says that Sophie is an unwilling doormat or that Louise is a doormat at all? It is clear that the latter is taking serious stock of her relationship with Johnny. She exhibits both patience and tenderness in her dealings with him, whereas she finally pulls a knife on Jeremy."[4]

Year-end lists[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ "NAKED (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 9 August 1993. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Jeffries, Stuart. "'I got dangerously close to Johnny'". The Guardian. 14 August 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Coveney, Michael (1996). The World According to Mike Leigh, pp.19, 21, 25, 27, 29, 32-34, 65-67. HarperCollins, New York. ISBN 0006383394.
  5. ^ Hoad, Phil. "How We Made Naked," The Guardian. 18 November 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d Leigh, Mike (Director), (1993). Naked (Motion picture). The Criterion Collection. United Kingdom: Leigh, Mike; Thewlis, David; Cartlidge, Katrin.
  7. ^ Myers, Ben. "Is Naked Britain's most under-rated film?," The Guardian. 20 February 2008. Retrieved on 16 February 2017.
  8. ^ "Naked (1993)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  9. ^ "Naked." Metacritic. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  10. ^ Malcolm, Derek. "Naked (Review)." The Guardian. 4 November 1993. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Naked (Review)." Chicago Sun-Times. 18 February 1994. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  12. ^ Moore, Suzanne. "Reel men don't eat quiche." The Guardian. 4 November 1993. Print. Quoted in Watts, Carol. "Mike Leigh's Naked and the Gestic Economy of Cinema." Women: A Cultural Review. 7.13 (1996): 271. Print.
  13. ^ Dudek, Duane (30 December 1994). "1994 was a year of slim pickings". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 3.
  14. ^ King, Dennis (25 December 1994). "SCREEN SAVERS In a Year of Faulty Epics, The Oddest Little Movies Made The Biggest Impact". Tulsa World (Final Home ed.). p. E1.
  15. ^ a b c "Festival de Cannes: Naked". Retrieved 22 August 2009.

External links[edit]